BusinessDay

US billionaire opens vaccine manufacturing plant in South Africa

U.S. billionaire and founder of NantWorks, a multinational biotechnology firm, Patrick Soon-Shiong and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa have launched a new vaccine manufacturing plant that is hoped to boost Africa’s capacity to make its own vaccines for diseases including COVID-19.

The new plant aims to reach a goal of producing 1 billion vaccines annually by 2025. In addition to producing COVID-19 vaccines, the new facility will focus on developing products to fight HIV, different types of cancer and other diseases in Africa.

The launch of the plant follows the announcement by the South African-born billionaire, Soon-Shiong in September last year of an ambitious initiative to build capacity for advanced health care in Africa. NantWorks LLC invested about $200 million to start the facility.

The biotechnology company also signed a collaboration agreement with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) that will initiate the transfer of biologic manufacturing technology for COVID-19 and cancer vaccines and next-generation cell-based immunotherapies.

This will enable the rapid clinical development of next-generation vaccines for infectious diseases and cancer at centres of excellence across the country.

The partnership between NantWorks, the CSIR and the SAMRC will expedite and expand manufacturing of biologics, immunotherapeutics and vaccines in South Africa through technology transfer and state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facilities.

Read also: Vaccine manufacturing in Africa: An urgent need for self-reliance

“As the African Union Champion on COVID-19, South Africa supports vaccine manufacturing in Africa to ensure self-sufficiency of the continent. Africa should no longer be the last in line to access vaccines against the COVID-19 pandemic, South African president Cyril,” Ramaphosa said during the launch on Wednesday.

“The pandemic has revealed the huge disparities that exist within and between countries in access to quality healthcare, medicines, diagnostics and vaccines,” said Ramaphosa. Africa is responding to COVID-19 with a depth of scientific knowledge, expertise and capacity to make its own vaccines”, he added.

Soon-Shiong said it has been his dream to bring state-of-the-art, 21st-century medical care to South Africa and to enable the country to serve as a scientific hub for the continent.

“There is such an unmet need to treat life-threatening infectious diseases such as AIDS, TB and now COVID-19. Of equal concern is the poor survival rate of patients suffering from cancer in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. The astounding advances in science have enabled new paradigms of care involving activating the immune system and changing outcomes for these diseases.

“We are privileged to have the opportunity to bring 30 years of clinical, scientific and advanced biological know-how to the country and establish much-needed capacity and self-sufficiency.”

South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare already assembles the J&J COVID-19 vaccine in a factory in Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth.

The Aspen facility blends the imported components of the vaccine and puts it in vials and packages the doses, a process known as fill-and-finish. That facility has a capacity of 220 million vaccines per year and is selling them in South Africa and to other African countries.

Another vaccine production plant in South Africa is operated by the Biovac Institute in Cape Town in a partnership with Pfizer-BioNTech to produce 100 million of its vaccine doses annually.

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